‘The Force Awakens’ keeps the ‘Star Wars’ faith

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Wednesday, December 16, 2015 8:54am
  • LifeGo-See-Do

I wonder which of the ingeniously placed revelations will get the biggest cheer in the new “Star Wars” movie. My money is on the way the camera casually discovers a certain neglected hunk-of-junk spaceship in the middle of a frantic escape.

No spoilers on the other big moments. You’re going to see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” anyway, so let’s leave the surprises to be enjoyed fresh.

And you will enjoy this movie, unless you’re disenchanted with the world-dominating nature of “Star Wars” hype, or such a purist that you think any “Star Wars” movie made after 1980 is a stain upon the original holy text.

George Lucas, the man who dreamed up the first 1977 film and the five that followed, has stepped aside from creative control. Disney owns the empire now, and they’ve assigned J.J. Abrams, who rebooted the “Star Trek” franchise, to direct.

Better yet, key returning members from the original cast are signed up for duty. But we have to wait a while to spot any of them—a smart decision.

“The Force Awakens,” which picks up the story decades after “Return of the Jedi,” begins with a delightfully fast-paced half-hour that introduces us to new faces. There’s been a resurgence of evil from the Empire, which leads a Resistance pilot named Poe (Oscar Isaac) to team up with an ex-Stormtrooper called Finn (John Boyega).

Meanwhile, a scavenger, Rey (Daisy Ridley), gets stuck with a spherical little droid on a desert planet. This droid has a secret, which will unlock the whereabouts of a legendary Jedi knight.

It isn’t long before a grizzled Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his hairy friend Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) stumble onto the scene. The trail will eventually lead to Princess — now General — Leia (Carrie Fisher), and a new threat from the Empire.

Ridley is a determined heroine, and Boyega (from “Attack the Block”) lends some crack comic timing. Along with the engaging youthful heroes, “Force” offers a variety of bad guys, notably Adam Driver as a helmet-wearing dark lord and Domhnall Gleeson as an Empire general.

Abrams, who wrote the script with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, strikes a nifty balance between honoring a pre-existing mythology and cooking up something fresh. There are moments that seem overly familiar — shout-outs for the faithful, like a tavern full of scum and villainy — but most of the storytelling is cleverly done.

The “Star Wars” saga was never deep; that was part of the point. It served up large comic-book ideas rendered in broad strokes, with chases, lightsaber duels and cliffhangers. The simplicity of its style cuts across cultures and time periods.

Working at that level, “Force” keeps the faith. It’s a relief to see a big, splashy movie that actually maintains a sense of childlike play.

And speaking of cliffhangers, we’ve got a couple of doozies in play as this one ends. “Episode VIII,” scheduled for 2017, will have some intriguing strands to pick up.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (3½ stars)

A phenomenon returns with Episode VII, as the now-graying Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) are joined by engaging new heroes in the fight against the Empire. Director J.J. Abrams strikes a nifty balance between pre-existing mythology and fresh touches, and there’s the familiar sense of childlike play throughout.

Rating: PG-13 for violence

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Edmonds, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Meridian, Sundance Cinemas, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Blue Fox, Cascade Mall.

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